Here Pietro Longhi offers us an intimate view into an artist’s studio, where a fashionable young woman in a gown of shimmering rose silk is having her portrait painted in the company of her lapdog and costumed escort. Standing behind her chair, the gentleman watches the painter at work, having removed his mask, a ubiquitous accessory in Venice during Carnival.
This invention, one of Longhi’s most successful, may be loosely interpreted as a ‘self-portrait’, although the painter shown here bears only a superficial resemblance to the artist’s known likeness. It is, however, the only time in the painter’s oeuvre that the act of painting is represented: as such, the image must undoubtedly have held special significance for its maker. This may also explain the number and quality of repetitions of this theme that have survived. Two fine preparatory drawings are preserved in the Museo Correr, Venice: one is of the standing gentleman, the other also includes the figure of the painter. Longhi then elaborated the composition in two formats; horizontal and vertical. Both are known in multiple versions; some considered autograph, others possibly studio replicas (see inter alia the paintings in the Stirling of Keir collection, London; Ca’ Rezzonico, Venice; National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin, and the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles). In its virtually pristine condition, the present version of The Painter’s Studio easily commands its place as a prime example of this composition in its vertical arrangement. The soft, pearlescent color harmonies, combined with the great delicacy of touch in every detail, mark this as a product of the mid-to-late 1740s, the artist’s most felicitous moment. It may, therefore, be compared favorably with examples such as the signed and dated Gentleman’s Awakening and Blindman’s Bluff (1744) in the Royal Collections at Windsor and the four compositions in the Metropolitan Museum dated 1746.